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A smiling man sitting on some stairs surrounded by books

IMH Professor in Practice Nick Barley appointed as the first director of the National Poetry Centre.

The trustees of the forthcoming National Poetry Centre have announced today that the acclaimed literary leader Nick Barley will be joining the organisation as its first director. 

Nick recently completed a 14-year tenure as Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival – one of the world’s biggest and best-respected literary festivals - and enjoys an international reputation as a cultural leader and events programmer. He has also chaired the judges of the International Booker Prize. 

Nick is also a Professor in Practice at Durham's Institute for Medical Humanities and the Department of English  Studies, where he plays a key role in the development of ReaderBank as part of the Discovery Research Platform for Medical Humanities

This important appointment signals a new and exciting phase for the National Poetry Centre, which will be based in Leeds and is the brainchild of Yorkshire-based Poet Laureate Simon Armitage. The centre will be the lasting legacy of Simon’s tenure – a national hub promoting poetry, literacy, oracy and learning for people from all cultures and backgrounds. 

Nick will be responsible for taking forward ambitious plans for a sustainable headquarters building in Leeds as well as a programme of events and activities that will reach right across the UK – inspiring people to engage with poetry and offering a platform for self-expression regardless of background, language or experience. 

Poet Laureate and NPC trustee Simon Armitage said: “The NPC is my flagship Laureate initiative, a groundbreaking home and headquarters for one of our nation’s proudest, oldest and most democratic of art forms. We want to share the benefits of poetry - which is language at its keenest - across all ages, social groups and cultures. With his keen understanding of the value of poetry and literature in all its forms, Nick Barley seems tailor-made for the role.” 

The news has been welcomed by Darren Henley OBE, Chief Executive of Arts Council England, who said: "Arts Council England is delighted to hear of the appointment of Nick Barley as the first Director of the National Poetry Centre. We have been proud to support the development of the NPC which 

will help cement Leeds' place as a nationally significant centre for literature and be a lasting legacy of Simon Armitage's period as Poet Laureate." 

NPC chair Ruth Pitt said: “We are thrilled that Nick will be joining us to turn Simon’s incredible vision into reality. All over the country millions of people write poetry at some point in their lives, countless thousands enjoy poetry groups and classes and many more study and publish poetry at all levels. Yet despite the huge contribution that poetry makes to our nation’s heritage and culture, it’s never had a dedicated national headquarters of its own. We’re going to change that - and Nick is the perfect person for the job.” 

Nick Barley added: “I was born and raised in Yorkshire and I’m thrilled to be returning home to lead in the delivery of this genuinely ground-breaking project, which builds on four years of inspiring preparatory work by Simon and the trustees. Leeds is one of the most vibrant and culturally ambitious cities in the UK right now: it’s the perfect location geographically for an HQ and Yorkshire already enjoys a vibrant poetry scene. I’m honoured to have the opportunity to work with writers and readers – to create a nationally significant building that Leeds will be proud of, and to bring poetry alive for people across the UK.” 

The project has been made possible thanks to the support of a range of partners including Arts Council England, the University of Leeds, Leeds City Council and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, all of whom have backed the idea since Simon first shared his vision shortly after taking over as Laureate in 2018. 

The centre received a vital boost in April of this year when Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, announced that his department would be contributing £5 million to support the capital development of the selected building - the currently disused Trinity St David’s Church on Woodhouse Lane in the heart of a major regeneration area in the centre of Leeds. 

The University of Leeds owns the Grade II listed heritage site, also well known across Yorkshire as the former Halo nightclub. The National Poetry Centre is working with the university to breathe life back into the iconic landmark building to create a new public space by late 2027 or early 2028. 

Designed to be open and accessible to all, the completed centre will be a vibrant space that welcomes children, young people and families as well as world-class academics and poets of all disciplines. With a proposed 250 seat performance space along with a library, workshops, study pods, offices, café, bookshop, open mic area and much more, it will be a unique local, regional, national and international destination for events, prize-giving, creativity, co-working, study, fun and relaxation in a challenging world. 

The centre will amplify the work of the many poetry groups, residential centres, schools, courses, publishers and of course poets that already exist across the UK. “To steal a phrase coined by one of our Arts Council colleagues, we are a nation of poets in search of a home,” says Simon Armitage, “and the National Poetry Centre will be that home.” 

Find out more about the National Poetry Centre
Explore the Discovery Research Platform for Medical Humanities.